On a cool September cotton pickin’ day, Senator Gray Tollison spoke to thirty-two members and friends of the Yalobusha Historical Society about the history of Oxford’s Thompson House.
The Thompson House on the north side of the Square in Oxford, Mississippi is historically significant, as it was Oxford’s first hotel built after the Civil War, erected during Reconstruction. The Thompson House was on the site of Oxford’s very first hotel, the Oxford Inn, a brick structure built by Charles George Butler, a great-grandfather of William Faulkner. Oxford was incorporated in 1837 and a few years later Butler began operating his inn and tavern.
On August 22, 1864, Union General Andrew Jackson Smith and his troops arrived in Oxford. Smith’s assignment was to pursue Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had been in Oxford for a week. General Smith’s troops burned Oxford’s depot in the morning, and after hearing that Forrest and his men had slipped away and raided Memphis on August 21, an enraged General Smith ordered the burning of the town. Almost all business places on the Square, including the Oxford Inn, were burned, as well as the 1840 brick courthouse in the middle of the Square. Five private homes were also burned. This was later reported in the Oxford Falcon, the town’s Reconstruction newspaper.
A Federal District Court was established in Oxford in 1866, with Judge Robert A. Hill presiding. The Falcon editor often lamented the fact that Oxford had no hotel to house the visiting lawyers attending federal circuit court, or the parents attending commencements at the University of Mississippi. He feared the Federal Court would be moved elsewhere if Oxford had no first-class hotel. He also felt that a well conducted hotel could make from ten to fifteen thousand dollars a year.
Construction of the Thompson House began in 1869. It was built by Caswell Macon Thompson who had purchased The Oxford Inn property in April 1867 from the widow of Charles G. Butler. Macon Thompson was the son and only child of Jacob Thompson, Congressman and Secretary of the Interior for President James Buchanan. Jacob Thompson had been a secret agent for the Confederacy, and after President Andrew Johnson’s general amnesty, Thompson returned from exile in Europe and lived in Memphis.
The April 17, 1869 Falcon stated that Macon Thompson would soon commence construction on his new hotel. It was to be a three story brick building with three entrances, one facing the Square, one facing the side street, and one facing the street behind the building. There were to be wide halls on all floors, a reception room, office, bar, gentlemen’s parlor, a large dining room, a ladies’ parlor on the second floor, a ballroom and chambers for guests, forty rooms in all. The local architect was Michael James McGuire, who would superintend the construction. The July 32 Falcon stated that the new hotel’s brick walls were being rapidly constructed.
The December 25, 1869 Falcon reported that the hotel was “progressing rapidly to completion.” The roof was on and the sash and glass in all the windows. The flooring was dressed and grooved and being laid. The building presented a “beautiful and stately appearance” and was expected to be open for the spring session of the circuit court.
Macon Thompson did not manage the Thompson House but leased it to others. The February 19, 1870 Falcon reported that Thompson had leased his “magnificent hotel building” to William G. Beanland. The hotel was to be completed by the first of May, would be furnished in the very best of style and, would be an ornament to Oxford. Beanland traveled to Cincinnati and Louisville to purchase furnishings for the Thompson House. Beanland was the proprietor for a year and was then followed by others.
The Thompson House opened for business the first week in May 1870. “Hops” were popular in Oxford, and the first hop at the Thompson House was held May 5, given by the young men at the University of Mississippi. The Falcon reported that it was a magnificent affair and “largely attended.” Music was provided by the Oxford Brass Band. The Falcon reported that a ball was held in the ballroom at the hotel on May 13, given by the young men of Oxford to “dedicate the building to the dancing Muse.” Dances are still held at times on the third floor of the Thompson House.
In 1872 freedman Wesley Stewart began operating a barbershop on the first floor of the hotel. Stewart was the only barber in Oxford. An 1885 map of Oxford’s Square shows the barbershop in the Thompson House.
Macon Thompson died in January 1873 and was buried in Memphis. His widow Sally’s name was on the 1867 property deed. Mrs. Thompson remained in Oxford and continued to lease the Thompson House.
This building served as a hotel for over one hundred years. The twentieth century brought different names and some businesses to the hotel. A Merchants and Farmers Bank was located on the first floor of the hotel from 1889 until 1914, when it failed. In 1904 the First National Bank was established in a nineteenth century building on the northeast corner of the Square. In the 1940s the bank moved to the first floor of the Colonial Hotel and remained there until 1963, when it moved to its present location.
In the 1970s the Colonial Hotel was condemned by a Lafayette County Grand Jury. In 1973 William Holcomb and attorney Grady Tollison bought the hotel building to open an office of the law firm of Holcomb, Dunbar, Connell, Merkel and Tollison that was located in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In 1977 Grady Tollison purchased the building from William Holcomb.
Tollison began to refurbish and renovate the building, and in 1980 he converted the third floor into his residence. Hotel numbers may still be seen on the bedroom doors. In 1984 Tollison placed the Thompson House sign back on the building, and in 1989 he replaced the balcony that had been on the front and side of the hotel in the nineteenth century. This historic old building is the home of the Tollison Law Firm.
Senator Tollison concluded with a report on the legislature.
Other notes of interest:
Mike Worsham called the meeting to order.
Lawrence Litten voiced a prayer.
Debbie Hughes gave a financial report.
Debbie Hughes, Julia Fernandez, and Joy Tippit asked for continued support for the yard sale to be held Oct. 6, 2012.
The October 18, 2012 speaker, Sarah Margaret Hallum, a Calhoun County native, will speak on the War of 1812.
Attending: Alma Moorman, Tom Moorman, Frank Fernandez Jr. Helen Jones, Joy Tippit, Kay McCulley, Carl H. Vick, Emma Hovey, Bobbie Hutchins, Bobby Hutchins, Pat Brooks, Mike Worsham, Dot Criss, Dave Hovey, Gary Tippit, Julia Fernandez, Bob Patterson, Martha Patterson, Cliff Chandler, John Evans, Gray Tollison, Bettie Litten, Lawrence Litten, Debby Hughes, Jimmie Pinnix, Francine Pinnix, Thelma Roberts, Donna Logan, Harold Sprayberry, Dollie Smith, Margaret D. Ross, James Person
Submitted by Joy M. Tippit